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For Indian Media, War Is Business As Usual

No sooner had Imran Khan spoken, the media got flooded with triumphant verbose. The narrative of military might got replaced with diplomatic stealth. The image of Narendra Modi was carefully managed to last yet another day.

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Keeping up to its reputation acquired sincerely over the past decade and rather religiously over past five years, Indian media has yet again enthralled everyone with its performance, at the backdrop of last two week’s heightened Indo-Pak hostility, as it juggled multiple niches of script writing, choreography, direction and acting, in a manner that would have even the JP Duttas and Sunny Delos of the Bollywood world a certain run for their money.

After the terror attack in Pulwama where a suicide bomber crashed an RDX laden car into a convoy of CRPF, causing death of no less than 40 jawans of the paramilitary force, the nation witnessed a freaking surge in curiosity. Yes, curiosity and little to no concern. Neither do I see in it a shred patriotism –the word in vogue – that last refuge where a scoundrel finds solace. The near 70000 deaths over past 30 years in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, no more waiting for an audience, curious or careless. Even when pretending to be sincere in the wake of the recent attack, there was no rallying cry for peace to settle the lingering dispute. The banality of death having proven itself quite so often that its boring to recount exactly on how many times we have been found lacking even the basic curiosity, the least of all concerns.

To satisfy their collective curiosity the masses mobilized themselves in front of TV screens, at cafeterias, common rooms and road side tea stalls. For the hawks in media, TRP is the God and what a God sent opportunity the Kashmir born attacker had brought. As the viewers switched on, much to their delight they witnessed a massive crackdown on every rational thought on their TV screen.

The choreographer hand ensured the studio ambiance was turned into the military war room. The anchors pretty accustomed with the theatrics, knew exactly at which precise syllable the pitch had to be raised and fits to be pumped, exactly how many times the word Pakistan needed mention. Even the adjectives to be used to describe the enemy neighbor and the name of the military response came as easy as back of their hand to the decorated anchors. All this while the animation experts upped the ante by simulating the anchor’s background with war scenes and fighter jets.

Decorated anchors? Or war/hate mongers? The jury may split based on which side of peace you stood. Regardless of that it was business as usual for the hawks in the business. Five years at peddling hate having made them pros in the genre.

With the TV simulated war front exploring all options at hand including the option of a nuclear attack, there was no escape route for the government at the center. Even before it could have ascertained what possibly led to the Pulwama attack, the studio’s quick response team (QRT) had charted the future course of action.

Truth is the first casualty of war. And here we were witnessing much and more of that. Independent sources and online news portals, though, did come up with their list of pertinent questions that were deliberately being ignored by the mainstream media. The questions that were swept under the carpet related to the criminal ignorance of a credible intelligence input that anticipated the attack, about which the officials were well aware; about how the attacker managed to pile such large quantity of explosive in world’s most militarized zone.

To remind readers, Kashmir has the highest security personnel to civilian ratio in the world. For every seven Kashmiri there is one armed Indian security agent.

The probing list went on further detailing how request for air transport for forces mobilization was turned down by New Delhi, and how troop movement in such large numbers in one of the most risk prone places was a strategy ill thought of. These were some of the questions that required accountability to be fixed at the highest order, yet didn’t find even a passing reference in the television news, which on its part was busy camouflaging for the war that must.

The Modi government going to the elections with a massive groundswell of anti-incumbency over issues ranging from farm distress, unemployment, demonetization and GST, was found salivating at the prospect of a war. After minority community stubbornly refused to respond to any nefarious design at vitiating the country’s atmosphere through periodic incitements over past five years, the polarization card seemed just not enough for the government to travel the distance.

Media with its dramatization had done its part of the pact, and left ordinary people curious for blood. Now the time was apt for hawks in the security establishment to enact scene two by shooting in public sight the narrative of a physical counter offense. Here again the craft came naturally, the officers having produced soaring tales of glory one too often from their closet of crackdown, illegal detention and CASO (cordon and search operation) that went beyond its remit.

Here, one must pause to remember that while the tensions soared at the border the court of the land in its judgment found not guilty eleven men who were behind bars for the past two decades on charges of terror. Under the circumstances any spin off from security establishment would assume only less of confidence.

Come Tuesday morning and the viewers curiosity was going to be sufficiently addressed. The managers in the offices were found giving a long shout to their close confidantes sitting in the office at 10 yards from their table, as did the neighborhood aunts.

“We have entered their territory and destroyed their terror camp.

Over 300 terrorists dead.

Surgical strike 2.

This time at Balakot.

Some non-descript place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Fighter jets.

Indian air force.

Pride and honor.”

No office premise remained apolitical after that announcement, neither did any household. Either you were discussing the bravado or you were deliberately ignoring it. The news followed frenzied discussion on India’s military might. What were glorified data entry operators, the vast pool of engineers, a moment before, became counter terror experts. From chai wallahs to doodh wallahs, the country overnight produced a fresh new crop of south Asian experts.The collective curiosity of the nation yet again reached its zenith.  Congratulatory messages started pouring for the soldiers who carried out the operation earlier in the day in the dead of the fading night.

The news came out after officers of Indian military held a press conference and told the nation about having carried out a pre-emptive attack on the terrorist camps. Words that oozed diplomacy at its very best. No official detail on the number of deaths. But enough for the media to script another cracker of a show. Crowds poured in to watch the extravaganza as anchors declared victory flashing toy guns and  rampuri chaku.

Pulwama had been avenged, for the media and its protégé. Too good a distraction for ones who needed the most.

As the entire country erupted in celebration, there was enough to be suspicious, which was yet again deliberately skipped by the media. The surgical strike post Uri having achieved nothing more than inspiring a Bollywood movie and advancing the career of Vicky Kaushal, besides adding up to the nation’s wit kitty –that lazy one liner,“how is the Josh”.

By late afternoon, reports from international press and news agencies started pouring in and much to India’s dismay countered India’s claim of having killed 300 terrorists. At best it described India’s bombing of open spaces and pristine mountains in Balakot as eco terrorism. As is a habit, the reports were blacked out in the main stream media while people in the mofussil towns slept on a high with the establishment’s version of truth.

Yet again, it was by virtue of social media, that the differing opinion came to prominence. The neighbor had invited foreign press to do reconnaissance of the site where India had allegedly destroyed terror camps. The story found less traction in India despite being published by several web portals.

The next morning came with a story of its own. After all, a persuasive media and curious eyeballs are not Indian alone features. The serious hands down Pakistan received from Indian media earned a proportionate reply from the news channels in the country. The army on its part violated Indian air space in retaliation to Indian misadventure, and was made to run by the vigilante Indian forces. In the aerial show down critical assets got destroyed from both the sides and Pakistan managed to take an Indian wing commander as prisoner.

Once again media threw its hat in the ring and mobilized the masses for a final assault. Luckily though, the statesmanship from the Pakistan’s Prime Minister, ensured there wasn’t further escalation. The captured wing commander was handed over to India in a dignified way. For the advocates of war, for whom this was a sort of last resort at solidifying their dwindling political fortunes, it came as a huge disappointment.But it wasn’t long before they smartly managed to give a positive spin to this defeat of theirs.

No sooner had Imran Khan spoken, the media got flooded with triumphant verbose. The narrative of military might got replaced with diplomatic stealth. The image of Narendra Modi was carefully managed to last yet another day. All the king’s war experts overnight became experts in international laws and treaties. Geneva convention became the new fad of the town; an altogether different matter whether it was practiced by those who were preaching it or not.

Kashmir meanwhile, is left to fend for its own self. In the aftermath of Pulwama, it is left with one less option. Violence for freedom’s cause always served Indian security state’s purpose. A stronger reason to carry on with its violations.

At the time of writing this report there was gun battle going on in Kashmir for over hundred hours. Few more security personnel have died in the combat. But, fewer eyeballs are curious this time.The ordinary citizen of main land India is waiting for the media to set up the funnel trap the next time josh needs a boost.

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